Judge: Electoral Board Erred Tossing Sodaro Challenge
A Cook County judge ruled Monday that the Oak Lawn Village Electoral Board erred when it dismissed a challenge against a village trustee's nominating petitions. Case is sent back for a hearing this week.
Judge Robert Bertucci said the Oak Lawn Village Board erred when it dismissed a challenge filed against a village trustee candidate’s nominating petitions to put his name on the upcoming consolidated election ballot.
Attorneys representing Oak Lawn resident Andy Skoundrianos and village board candidate Dan Sodaro met in court Monday to determine if the village electoral board followed the law when it dismissed an objection filed against Sodaro.
Sodaro is challenging longtime village trustee Bob Streit for the 3rd District seat on the Oak Lawn Village Board. Last month, village electoral board members Mayor Dave Heilmann and Trustee Jerry Hurckes voted to dismiss the challenge.
Village Clerk Jane Quinlan was the lone dissenter and read a statement during a formal reading of the electoral board's ruling that said she did not believe her fellow electoral board members followed the law when they voted to dismiss the objection.
Bertucci told attorneys Dennis Brennan and Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, representing Skoundrainos and Sodaro, respectively, the case should have proceeded to an evidentiary hearing.
“I agree with the dissenting (electoral board) member,” the judge said.
Skoundrianos wants Sodaro’s name removed from the April 5 ballot because of what he claims is a “pattern of fraud” involving the circulators of Sodaro’s nominating petitions. Skoundrianos, a friend of Streit, maintains that residents signed the petitions for persons other than the circulators whose names appear at the bottom of Sodaro’s petition sheets. State election laws required petitions to be signed in the presence of circulators and that no more than one circulator’s name appear on a petition sheet.
Krafthefer argued before the judge that a typo invalidated the challenge against her client. She also told the judge that one of the electoral board members—Mayor Heilmann, who by law chairs the village electoral board—is an attorney.
Brennan cited other cases in which electoral boards overlooked such errors and allowed electoral challenges to proceed.
Bertucci said that because the elected office was named correctly in other parts of the challenge, it should not have caused the electoral board to become confused. Electoral boards’ purpose, he further explained, is to determine if a candidate’s nominating petitions are in order.
“(The remedy) seems to ask for something totally proper except for the extra language,” Bertucci said. “The electoral board chose for whatever reason to focus on something they had no authority over, instead of addressing the part they did have authority over. I think that’s significant.”
Krafthefer also went after the “pattern of fraud” allegations concerning the circulators.
“There could be a dozen things wrong with the circulators,” she said. “We don’t know what is false about it. How can we put on a case? It doesn’t let us know what is being challenged.”
Brennan responded that “we marked places where we had affidavits” from residents claiming that they signed Sodaro’s petitions for persons other than the circulators.
“There is case law that lets us bring it up in testimony,” he added. “It said in the context of the objection that the investigation continues. We brought forward more than we had to.”
Krafthefer fired back that it was a “shotgun objection.”
“One can file an objection saying there is a pattern of fraud and withdraw it if there isn’t,” she said.
Bertucci said he wanted to give “proper deference” to the electoral board, but decided to send the challenge back for an evidentiary hearing.
“My view is similar to the dissenting (electoral board) member,” Bertucci said. “I’ve seen very similar objections make it through this stage. This should have gone to a hearing. The electoral board was erroneous. I’m remanding it back for a hearing.”
The judge would not rule on whether Heilmann and Hurckes, who is running unopposed for re-election in the 1st District, were biased when they voted to dismiss the challenge. Brennan filed a court memo claiming that his client was denied a fair hearing because of Heilmann's and Hurckes' personal relationships with Sodaro and one of his circulators, Lynn Craig.
“Certainly there is a strong built-in bias that seems to jump out here,” Bertucci said. “That’s kind of a given. This is not a criticism of suburban electoral boards, it’s because of the makeup of a board.”
Brennan said he was prepared to file a motion in court asking that Heilmann and Hurckes be removed from the electoral board.
A representative of Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office also was present in court on Monday, stating that Orr had no interest in the objection but in the printing of the ballots, which are scheduled to go to press on Feb. 23.
Bertucci advised the village’s legal counsel to put the Oak Lawn Village Electoral Board on notice to reconvene for a hearing in the next 48 hours. That hearing could take place Wednesday or Thursday.
“They need to move quickly,” because of the printing of the ballots, the judge said.
Pending the outcome of that hearing, Sodaro’s name remains on the ballot.
Both Streit and Sodaro were in court on Monday. Streit said he wasn’t surprised by the judge’s decision. Streit could not serve on the electoral board as the most senior trustee because the challenge involved his own race.
“The judge said what I said all along,” Streit said. “The electoral board was erroneous.”
Skoundrianos said he could not attend Monday’s hearing because he had to work, but he said he felt “vindicated.”
“We had the truth on our side,” he said. “It was a biased decision. They tried it their way and now they have to do it the right way. It vindicates me, Dennis Brennan, Bob Streit and Jane Quinlan.”